“Gram, you know that thing you make that’s like lasagna?” My 7-year-old grandson’s big blue eyes rolled sky-ward as he tried to come up with the name of one of his favorite meals.

After a slew of wrong answers and many more questions, we all realized he was trying to come up with the word meatloaf. It’s not exactly like lasagna, but it is cooked in the oven. When I promised to make it for the little guy later in the week, I decided to share our family recipe for this staple with all of you.

This is the way I’ve made meatloaf since the 70s, and it’s the way my mother made it for decades, too, and she still does. I haven’t tried to improve it, embellish it or make it healthier. Why would I? This works.

I use inexpensive ground beef and whatever bread crumbs I have in the pantry; sometimes making my own from bread crusts I have hanging around in the back of the breadbox. I don’t really measure anything either. I throw everything into a big yellow bowl and mix it with my hands. When it feels right, it’s ready to slap into the loaf pan and put in the oven. Sometimes I make a couple and put one in the freezer — you never know when you’re going to need a good meatloaf.

Sometimes I just bake potatoes and steam broccoli as sides, but when I’m feeling particularly fancy and have the time, I put together what we call The Ultimate. This casserole is everything you’ve ever dreamed of when you hear the words “stuffed potato.” The creamy cheesiness with bacon and onions is so incredibly satisfying, with the added plus that it can be made ahead a day or even two.

And since you’re turning on the oven, you might as well make room in there for an easy dessert you can enjoy later with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I have no idea why this is called Norwegian Apple Pie. I just know Mom used to make it when unexpected company dropped in.

This is the kind of food I grew up on and still savor to this day. It’s honest and quick and cheap and fortifying. There is sugar. There is ketchup. There is mayonnaise and sour cream and cheese coming out of every pore. When I make this meal, I can see the Formica-topped table, the Melmac dishes and the metal box with the handwritten recipes.

Yes, the calories are all in there, but so are the memories. We can all eat salad tomorrow, unless, of course, there are leftovers. Then you must have a candied meat, I mean meatloaf, sandwich. And the potatoes and pie ca be warmed up for breakfast.

Our Family’s Meatloaf
2 lbs. ground beef

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. parsley

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 cup ketchup

3 tbsp. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using your hands, combine all ingredients except ketchup and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Make into a firm ball then press into a loaf pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until meat is cooked through. Combine ketchup and brown sugar and use to top meatloaf, pouring off any grease first if necessary. Bake for 20-30 minutes more. Yield: 6-8 servings

The Ultimate (Baked Potato Casserole)
2 1/2 pounds cooked, cubed potatoes

8 ounces crumbled, cooked bacon

16 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 green onions, chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

Fresh chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream in a large bowl. Fold in potatoes, bacon and green onion. Spoon mixture into a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with chives. Bake for 1 hour or until bubbling and golden on top. Yield: 6-8 servings

Norwegian Apple Pie
2 eggs

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup flour

2 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 cups diced apples

1 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie plate. Beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in apples and nuts.

Bake for 30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg. Yield: 6-8 servings